6 Apr 2005

Fiji PM visits jailed minister before making decision on cabinet position

7:49 pm on 6 April 2005

Fiji's prime minister has visited the jailed minister for lands, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, in Labasa prison before making a decision on his cabinet portfolio.

Laisenia Qarase is quoted as saying the law must be respected but it is impossible to ignore the wider issues related to the imprisonment of the minister who holds the highest chiefly title in Vanua Levu, that of the Tui Cakau.

Mr Qarase says those who traditionally support the Tui Cakau will be concerned and unsettled by what has happened and he must take their feelings into account.

He says the decision he makes on the lands minister will be based on the correct position in law.

Mr Qarase says having led a coalition between his SDL and the minister's Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua, it is important to for him to consult his coalition partners before making a decision on Ratu Naiqama's position.

Meanwhile, Radio Legend reports that Lalabalavu, government senator Ratu Josefa Dimuri and two other Vanua Levu chiefs have accepted their conviction and sentence and will not appeal against it.

Defence Lawyer Alan Robinson quotes Lalabalavu as saying that they accept the decision of the court and there is no need to take the matter further.

Mr Robinson also says Lalabalavu will not apply to be released under a Compulsory Supervision Order similar to the one granted to the jailed former vice president, Seniloli.

This is despite a call by his family for an immediate release on health grounds.

All four chiefs were jailed for 8 months on Monday for their role in the Labasa army mutiny at the height of the 2000 coup